Trading paper for e-forms helps contractors capture the specific information they need
By: Greg Norris, B2W Software
Forms are a fact of life in heavy construction. Customizing them can help contractors to capture the precise information they need in a format they want and with the highest levels of efficiency and accuracy.
The challenge is that, a paper-based process makes customization difficult. Paper is a liability when it comes to tailoring a library of forms to meet specific requirements, keeping those forms up to date and distributing them to employees across the organization. Contractors that have not switched to electronic forms instead tend to rely on more generic, paper alternatives that make it harder to fill out forms and deliver the data that is required.
The opportunity to capture and move information faster is often seen as the primary reason to switch from paper to electronic forms. “The biggest advantage is, you get the information fast,” confirms Matt DeLuca at RJV Construction in Massachusetts. His company has adopted the B2W Inform solution for electronic forms and reporting across a wide range of inspection, safety and HR applications.
DeLuca says it was not uncommon for it to take up to two weeks for paper inspection forms to find their way back to the office or the maintenance manager. “Now, if there is an incident in the field, if there is and incident with a truck, I know it in real time,” he says.
That speed and efficiency is important. However, contractors should not overlook how electronic forms open up the opportunity to customize forms instead of relying on generic paper versions. This, in turn, makes it easier to complete the forms, improves the accuracy and relevance of the data collected, and makes it easier to extract and report on the information.
Forms for equipment inspections present a good example of the advantages. Creating customized paper forms for each specific piece of equipment, keeping them up to date as specs and requirements change, and getting them into the hands of the people that need them can be next to impossible. Instead, contractors tend to rely on generic forms to cover all their equipment or broad categories of equipment. Instead of a specific form for each excavator model, they might have one for all “excavators” or one for “heavy equipment”.
Drawbacks of this approach are easy to recognize. Generic forms are generally longer to accommodate all of the information and fields required for a wider range of equipment. That makes them more cumbersome and time consuming to fill out. An operator inspecting a vehicle with tires, for example, might have to skip over the section inquiring about tracks. Likewise, managers or administrators then must sift and sort through a lot of unnecessary fields to extract and report on data that may be relevant.
Customized forms allow contractors to instead drill down and get just the information they need in the format and structure they want for easier reporting. “With paper, our operators had a normal form that was generic across all machines,” explains Ben Tucker, equipment manager at Barriere Construction in Louisiana. “Now, with electronic forms, they have a form for each type of equipment, and we’re getting the specific details relative to that type of equipment.”
Contractors using customized electronic forms can also design those forms to emphasize certain data points that operators should be on the lookout for based on factors like maintenance history or manufacturer recommendations for specific assets.
“We pre-load some common defects into certain areas of the inspection form such as engine oil leak or filter issues,” explains Tucker. “This speeds up the inspection process for our operators and it helps us get good information back on what’s wrong with the equipment, so that we can get it fixed for them in a more timely manner.”
Building electronic form templates and publishing and managing the forms has been a lot easier than DeLuca and his colleagues anticipated. “It’s basically drag and drop,” he explains. “Once you know a few basic principles, you can very easily create any type of form you want.”
That simplicity encourages customization. Going back to the equipment inspection example mentioned earlier, when the specs or maintenance requirements for a particular asset are updated or the maintenance team recognizes a trend or issue they want to address, updating the form is easy.
With B2W Inform and other solutions, those forms are then available in the Cloud. With permission, managers and operators can search for and access the exact forms they need, fill them out and submit them instantly.
Construction operations are growing more complex, and the requirements for collecting data in the field continues to increase. An expanding number of contractors are also recognizing the value of not only capturing that information, but also turning it into intelligence they can use to correct problems more quickly, identify trends and operate more effectively. Customized electronic forms can give them advantages over generic paper forms in both of these areas.